By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
Cameroon has severally been hailed for holding on to its unity despite its cultural diversity.
According to the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, this specificity of Cameroon is thanks to continuous efforts at making its citizens feel at home where ever they find themselves in the country, a true legacy of the 1961 reunification.
Some pundits, however, have argued that national integration is a mere slogan used by politicians and fence-sitters to blind the minds of Cameroonians while the country’s development stagnates. Many Anglophones especially argue that national integration is far from being practical as Cameroonians from the English extraction are seen as alien in a pure francophone-oriented system.
The reality, according to historians, is that reunification of French and English-speaking Cameroons in 1961 set the pace for true national integration to follow its course. Over the years, government has put in enormous efforts in various domains all in a bid to promote integration. First and foremost in the area of education, national integration is very glaring. From the basic to the secondary and higher levels, courses on bilingualism and citizenship continue featuring in the syllabuses to help young and growing Cameroonians understand the importance of living in harmony with each other no matter their region of origin.
In order to promote the policy of official language, bilingual education has been implemented in Cameroon since 1961. This entails the use of the two official languages in education, especially at the university level. In four of the six state universities, English and French are used as languages of instruction in lecture halls wherein Anglophones and Francophones sit side by side in the same classroom. Thus the professor employs the official language he masters better for his lecture. On their part, students take down notes and do tests and assignments in the language of their choice. However, the practice of bilingual education in the Cameroon university system is plagued by a number of problems. The first is that most of the lectures are delivered in French in view of the numerical advantage of Francophone professors, a situation that is deplored by the Anglophone minority who feel that they are cheated.
Luckily the trend seems to be changing in recent years with more and more francophone realizing the need to learn the English language.
In spite of our individual official language identity, the prominence of English as a world language, with international prospects and international interaction, has launched an identity remake in Cameroon marked by the great penchant for the language among the francophones. The world today is diverging towards an English Language hegemony, which especially in the outer and expanding circles like Cameroon, results in several identity evolutions and reconsiderations.
According to Professor Fanso, national integration is a reality in Cameroon seen through many aspects of our national life. Marriage of two people from different villages and cultures or linguistic background is a reality. These intermarriages help spouses to accept the norms and values of their partner with any problems. Cameroonians in their majority surge to consolidate the unity that reigns despite differences in cultures and language.
One other big aspect that has brought Cameroonians together is sports. Cameroon’s national football team, the Indomitable Lions, is a key symbol. No matter the religious or ethnic differences, when it comes to sports activities, Cameroonians become one for the common good of their nation.
The binding effects brought about by this activity are no less a promoting facet to the integration needed to push the country forward in its emergence quest. Cameroon happens to be one of the rare countries with two official languages, English and French. Despite complaints that the level of bilingualism is low, more and more Cameroonians especially of the French extraction are struggling to at least learn both languages even when it is difficult to speak fluently.
According to the Director of Civic education and national integration at the Ministry of Youth Affaires, Ndzo Augustine Kum, Cameroonians should be able to feel at home where ever they find themselves and these values have to be promoted by all and especially the youths who are the leaders of tomorrow.
He explains that “national integration means we all have to feel as one. If you are from the North region and find yourself in the West or South West region, you should be able to feel at home. I must say that even the bilingualism that we often talk about are aspects of national integration in the sense that not only those of the English speaking regions should speak English and vice versa. They all have to make an effort in speaking both languages in that way our national integration will be highlighted.”As Cameroonians prepare to celebrate their 50th anniversary it would be laudable if many more get sensitized on the values of national integration and what advantages will accrue if all felt at home where ever he/she finds himself. For sure the road is long and narrow, but Cameroonians are known for their tenacity in the face of challenges.